4

Revisiting Veganism

I’ve been vegan for over a year now. This week it was my birthday, and as a gift, I got a little pack with certificates saying that I’m now Shirley the cow’s and Hamish the pig’s ‘best buddy‘.

These guys live at Edgar’s Mission, and Shirley’s story was the catalyst to my becoming vegan. I wanted to sponsor him since he was the one that set me on the path.

Hamish is just super cute!

Anyway, it reminded me of when I first read Shirley’s story, so I thought I’d revisit the post I wrote at the time. What do you think? Was I on the right track?

I think going vegan was one of the best decisions I ever made. 🙂

In my pack from Edgar’s Mission, I got a booklet entitled Eating Up The World: the environmental consequences of human food choices. It’s produced by various vegetarian/vegan societies in Australia, so you could get a copy through any of them if you wanted one. It’s also available online at that link. I thought it might be biased considering the producers, but they cite all their sources. Anyway, the booklet really confirmed my decision for me, from an environmental standpoint. It clearly outlines how choosing not to eat animal products is pretty much the single greatest individual activity you can take to help reduce climate change. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Here are some of the main points (I didn’t know a bunch of these before I read the booklet!):

  • It takes 50,000L to 100,000L of water to produce 1kg of beef, but only 2500L to produce 1kg of white rice and much less for most other grains, fruits and vegetables. (This totally makes me think of how I was often told to eat less rice during the drought, because it was such a water-intensive crop and not suited to the Australian climate – which it’s not – but no-one ever told me to eat less beef.)
  • Over 67% of water in Australia is used for agriculture (as compared to 9% for household use), so we should concentrate our water saving efforts on what we eat/wear etc. About 90% of household water consumption comes from food consumption. People eating an omnivorous diet use approximately 3.5 times as much water for food than people eating plant-based diets. Are you seeing a connection here?
  • Australia’s livestock will produce more warming over the next 20 years (via methane) than all our coal-fired power stations combined.
  • 60% of Australia’s land is used for grazing.
  • The UN identified ‘…animal agriculture and food consumption as one of the most significant drivers of environmental pressures and climate change, stating that “a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products”…’
  • 92% of land disturbance in Australia, which includes clearing forests and bushland, increased erosion, changes to the water table, acidifying and compacting soils, spreading weeds, unsustainable levels of manure and climate change, is caused by animal agriculture (55% beef, 36% sheep/wool, 1% dairy). The remaining 8% is all other industries. That’s EVERYTHING ELSE.
  • 5kg of wild fish is needed to produce 1kg of farmed fish.
  • Fish is one of the most contaminated foods on the planet.
  • Some parts of the ocean have been so over-fished that they are now ‘dead zones’ covering tens of thousands of square kilometres.
  • Australia now imports 30% of our oil (we used to drill our own, but it’s been dropping since 2000 – Australia has already reached peak oil). Animal agriculture uses considerably more energy than plant agriculture, considering transport of feed and livestock, operation of farm facilities including heating, cooling, lighting and slaughter facilities and the constant refrigeration required for storage of the animal products.
  • 27,000 children under the age of 5 die of poverty and starvation every day around the world – and we grow 50% more edible grain worldwide than is required to feed every person on the globe. That extra food plus more is given to farm animals.
  • The world’s cattle (so not including anything but cow type animals) eat enough food to feed more than the whole world’s population.
This has actually put a bit of a different spin on things for me. For a long time I’ve been thinking beef production is one of the better types of animal agriculture, because from an animal rights perspective, the animals live better lives than many other species. However, from this booklet, it sounds like beef is the worst environmentally. I was actually surprised that poultry and eggs didn’t show up on the graphs – I know the animals are smaller but they’re so extensively farmed…
Guess it’s a good thing I’m vegan so I don’t have to make any tough decisions. I just don’t eat any of it. Easy.
Thanks Shirley. 🙂

Share

1

I Hate Cars

The title says it all. Please take into consideration the following points as you read this:

  • I don’t have a license and people give me shit about it all the time. Sometimes I think I should get one for convenience or to get people off my back, but I don’t like driving, it’s not good for the planet and I have no inclination to learn. Despite that, I probably will learn one day…. for the above reasons.
  • My partner drives a lot for work, although both of us wish she didn’t have to, and today she had a significant car accident. She’s not home yet and I am feeling all sensitive and paranoid and I just want to see her even though we’ve been texting and she has assured me she is alright.
  • My good mates had a major (car written off) accident last week, by a stupid drunk driver. They’re lucky to be alive.
  • I regularly feel terrified when in the car amongst traffic. It just gives me the heebie jeebies.
front of a ford laser, smushed in.

Our smushed car. 😦

I hate cars.

no cars sign

Here’s why:

Car maintenance. You spend a fortune maintaining an object you don’t really care about (well, I don’t), which ultimately depreciates in value until it hits rock bottom. Petrol and services and new tyres and oil and brake fluid and power steering fluid and windscreen wiper blades and cleaning and fixing broken air conditioners and rebuilding stupid broken motors. We bought our last car for $3500 and sold it two years later for $120 (including quite nice stereo, replaced tyres and a replaced motor which cost $2000).

Car insurance. It’s expensive. You pay a fortune in premiums or pay an excess. If you haven’t been driving without incident for ages it costs more. If you’re a young male it costs more. The insurance companies try to get out of paying for anything if at all possible. But you have to have it because what if something happens?

Petrol. It costs lots, is the root of many wars and conflicts and causes massive environmental damage. Petrol (oil, gasoline… whatever you call it) is super sucky.

It’s dangerous to drive. Lots of people die or are injured driving. I’m paranoid to drive. I’m paranoid to be in the car while other people are driving. People drive like maniacs sometimes. Anyone with a license can get on the road. There’s no law against driving tired, which can be just as bad as driving drunk. People drive drunk! I know they do. People speed. People get road rage and are impatient and drive in a hurry and are affected by their moods.

It’s dangerous to be a pedestrian/cyclist when you’re on or near a road. See the above reason. Car drivers tend not to be fond of pedestrians or cyclists… unless the pedestrian is pressing the crossing button so the traffic lights change in their favour. Then they praise the pedestrian. But they never give them a courtesy wave. They save that for other drivers. Cos some drivers (not all) think they are a cut above.

Cars have allowed for the proliferation of stupid car-based infrastructure, like enormous highways and oodles of roads roads roads and urban sprawl and jobs where you have to travel between sites, instead of hiring one person for one place, and another person for another place. Small community lifestyle – even amidst urban villages – is dwindling because no-one works near home anymore.

Cars have been so integrated into our culture that not driving or wanting to drive makes you appear to be a freak. When starting my new job, I downplayed it. ‘Oh, I prefer to take public transport. It’s better for the planet, for my health, you don’t have to worry about finding a park or paying for parking…’. Some folks thought that was fine. But on the days where I have to travel further afield, people suggest using a company car. I often end up car-pooling, which is fine, but I’d rather catch the bus or train. People talk to me like they feel sorry for me though, and offer me a lift. If I try to suggest that I’m ok, they steamroll the issue. My dad suggested they might just want to be able to use the T2 lane, but I don’t think so. I think they feel like they’re doing their civic duty by offering the poor public transport girl a ride.

Ok, maybe some of them are being nice. Maybe it’s my own internalised feelings that make the offers seem a tad condescending. Sometimes it feels like I’m the kid that my parents have to drop off places cos I’m not old enough to drive.

But – and here’s a catch 22 – because cars are so integrated into our culture and society, sometimes it really is more convenient to get a car ride, and I want someone to offer me a lift. So sometimes I resent it and sometimes I want it. Which makes me pissed off at myself and the world. But not at the people who offer me lifts. *sigh*

The integration and proliferation of cars means less walking, riding, running, bussing, training, ferrying… which means less fitness, less health, less wellness. Instead we sit alone, sedentary, inside our cars, stuck for ages in giant traffic jams, idling, as the fumes waft into the atmosphere. While I wait at bus stops, sometimes a play a little game with myself where I count the number of people in the cars that go by. I put them into two teams – the single-person car and the multi-person car. They compete. The single-person car always wins. Most car rides are made alone.

The reason that most closely pertains to this blog is the environmental impact of course. You all know it. Go mad on Google for a while. Stumble around on StumbleUpon, if you’ve got some environmental pages saved (it’ll show you more of the same – check my account out if you want an example). Basically, driving alone – the way the vast majority of Australians travel – is the most polluting, environmentally damaging way to get around.

co2 emissions (pounds per passenger). single car = 1.1. jet = 0.97. carpool with 3 people = 0.37.

single-car driving sucks.

So let’s sum it up:

  • Expensive (maintenance, insurance, repairs, registration)
  • Causes world conflict
  • Dangerous (for the drivers, passengers, cyclists, pedestrians, wildlife)
  • Screwing with society (infrastructure, work-life balance, urban sprawl)
  • Unhealthy (sedentary as compared to physical, plus pollution is bad for the lungs, eyes etc)
  • Environmentally hazardous (pollution, oil collection etc)

And we lovely little human beings stick with it, for all that, because of convenience… or perhaps more to the point, because we believe or have been conditioned to believe that cars are necessary. A requirement. We wouldn’t have one if it wasn’t for Yankee Elv’s job. Or if we did, we wouldn’t use it for anything more than the odd camping trip or visit to my parents. At least, we wouldn’t if there was better infrastructure. Bah.

Cars suck.

I wanna go live in a place without cars, or in a place where those communal car companies make cars available in the suburbs, rather than just in the city. Why do you need them in the city? You’re IN THE CITY with a MILLION BUSES and TRAINS and FERRIES and WALKING PATHS and FOOTBRIDGES…

Yeah, it’s not a great day for me. I’m ticked off. And I hate cars.

The end.

Share

9

Reduce: Toothbrush Waste

Am I an eco-freak or is thinking about environmentally friendly dental hygiene a normal trait amongst the eco-conscious?

Thank you, I thought it was normal. (No comments from the peanut gallery.)

Alright, for those of you less eco-freak normal than me, here’s why you should be thinking about the environmental impact of toothbrushes. Let’s take Australia as an example.

There are about 22 million people in the country. Let’s say, as a very rough estimate, that 1.25 million are little babies and don’t have teeth. So that’s 20.75 million Australians with teeth (including dentures, which still need to be brushed, so they count.) We all know the dentist tells us to change our toothbrush when it starts to get shaggy; about every three months. We also know that we are lazy, so we probably only change them every four months. So let’s say everyone changes their toothbrush three times a year (every four months).

Here’s the equation:

  • Australian population with teeth  x number of toothbrushes used per person per year  = number of toothbrushes used in Australia per year

…which equates to:

  • 20,750,000  x= 62,250,000

Yes, you read that right. By my very rough estimate, Australians are using 62 and a quarter million toothbrushes per year. (Some estimates say 30 million, but I’m going to presume Australians care about their dental hygiene more than that.) To boggle your brain a little more, keep in mind that Australia has a small population. Think of how many toothbrushes the US, Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and Indonesians are using. Yikes!

These toothbrushes are made of plastic (the handles) and nylon (the bristles), plus they come in that dodgy plastic packaging – one of those single-use, disposable consumer items The Story of Stuff claims make up the vast proportion of our purchases.

Remember, no plastic is boidegradable. Photodegradable, sure (that means, broken down by sunlight into tiny pieces) – but it’s still there, being ingested by ever smaller organisms – entering and messing with our food chain from the very lowest level. All plastic rubbish goes into landfill or one of the ocean garbage patches (there are five – even though you may have only heard of the largest one in the North Pacific).

So what can we do about it?

Well, Mr Teeny-bop and I are trialling the Environmental Toothbrush and we are very excited! (Yankee Elv will get one too when her current toothbrush wears out.)

I found the wooden toothbrushes at Flannery’s for $2.95 each, which is very comparable with standard plastic toothbrushes (actually less than some). They are made of sustainably-produced bamboo (the handle) and a biodegradable polymer (the bristles) and will apparently compost completely in your home compost heap or bin. The packaging is cardboard and paper, which can be composted or recycled.

The one environmental downside is that they are manufactured in China (although this would be an upside if you lived in China, so I guess it all depends on your perspective). Regardless, every other toothbrush I’ve been able to find on the shelves is also made in China, so it’s not like they’re any worse than what we’ve been buying anyway, in terms of travel miles. My findings on manufacturing locations are backed up by an Australian Low Impact blog.

As far as the efficacy goes, I think they are great! The bristles are soft, which is my preference anyway, but these are a bit softer than I’ve been able to find otherwise, so I’m very impressd with that.

The handle is comfortable and the head is small, which works for me as I have a small mouth. Sometimes I find toothbrushes are a bit big to fit comfortably between my top and bottom teeth and I have to really open wide to brush my back molars. This toothbrush doesn’t require that, which is great.

Also, my front teeth curve a little bit and it can be difficult to clean the back of them, but the small head and soft, bendy bristles make cleaning a breeze. I think I actually like the way this brush works better than any other I’ve used. So it’s a win for me!

Mr Teeny-bop also reports that is it very comfortable. He likes that it’s not so ‘plasticky’ in his mouth and he also likes the smaller head and softer bristles. We are using coloured elastic bands (stolen from Yankee Elv’s old hair supplies) to tell the toothbrushes apart.

I am conscious that we will have to be careful to keep the toothbrushes dry. I think leaving them standing in a cup (our current method) is not going to be an effective way of keeping the ends from staying damp and potentially rotting. We’ll have to modify our toothbrush storage method, but I think that is a small price to pay.

So why don’t you give them a try? If you don’t live in Queensland and thus don’t have access to a Flannery’s shop, you can order the toothbrushes from the site, like the folks at My Green Australia are going to. Alternatively, try find your own locally produced environmentally-friendly toothbrushes, and spend your four minutes of toothbrushing per day congratulating yourself for diverting more plastic from landfills and oceans. Cos we all deserve some self-congratulation sometimes, right?

Remember to spread the word to your family and friends. These toothbrushes are not only good for the environment, they’re also good value and comfy to use!

P.S. These toothbrushes are also vegan. No boar bristles!

Share

0

The Story of Stuff

I just read a great article about Annie Leonard, who created The Story of Stuff. The Story of Stuff is a short, animated film that explains our consumer lifestyle and how it is affected us and the planet – from go to whoa. Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it before (you can choose different languages and captions if you click through to the site).

I like how the article allows Annie to better explain some of the points people have refuted. I also like how it gives us a bit of background to how she got into environmental activism. I especially like how the article is appearing in a major magazine – Elle – so lots of people will get to hear more about The Story of Stuff. Good stuff, Elle!

P.S. I really like the idea of a kampung. Does anyone know of any western (specifically Australian) types of these? Mostly I’ve seen eco-villages, but they don’t allow you to keeps cats and dogs and that doesn’t work for me (although I understand their reasons). I would love to live near like-minded people, eventually, and the whole sharing of resources and community appeals to me.

Share

0

Moving the BP Oil Disaster

I got some serious news about my health recently. I’m still waiting on a definite diagnosis, but I probably have a degenerative disease with a likely outcome of paralysis or blindness. Fun stuff. Imagine Yankee Elv with her hearing dog and me with a guide and/or assistance dog. Won’t we make a pair? I’m hoping I’m one of the lucky ones who misses out on those symptoms, but there’s no way to know, there’s no cure and I haven’t responded well to treatment so far.

As you may imagine, this has had me a bit distracted. That’s partly why recently there have been lots of posts about happy, achievable things, like saving chickens and eating vegan food – I haven’t felt up to delving into the serious stuff. Plus, aside from eating healthily, exercising regularly and avoiding illness and tiredness, the best way to look after myself is to reduce stress. Just for a little while, reducing stress has included not keeping up with the really nasty environmental crap – like the disaster of the BP oil spill. It just didn’t seem like something I should stress about. So that’s why you haven’t seen anything from me about arguably the greatest single event of human-created ecological catastrophe in memory.

However, a friend of mine posted about this site on Facebook, and I thought it was too good not to share. It’s called IfItWasMyHome.com and it allows you to digitally move the oil spill around on a map. You think it’s bad in the Gulf of Mexico? Well, of course it is. But is it better or worse if it’s in a major city? What about if it was where you live? On this site, you can try it out.

I found it interesting because I lived on the Gulf Coast in Texas for a while. In reality, it’s getting close to places I’ve been, so I can picture what it’s doing.

BP oil spill

The BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The little red circle shows where I used to live.

I also moved the oil spill to Brisbane. It helps me understand, more tangibly, how big it actually is. It covers up the entire south east of Queensland region, including where I live now, where I grew up, where I go camping… everything. It’s huge.

oil spill if it was moved to brisbane

Here's what the oil spill would look like if it had happened in Brisbane.

Here it is in New York. The place where Yankee Elv grew up is covered in oil.

oil spill if it was moved to new york

Here's what the oil spill would look like if it had happened in New York.

Possibly the most shocking and frightening image came up when I moved the spill to Rome.

oil spill covering rome

Here's what the oil spill would look like if it had happened in Rome.

The width of the spill is greater than the width of the entire country of Italy. The BP oil disaster is bigger – significantly bigger – than a number of European countries. You can see them right there on the map. Get that in your head…

…then think about how the oil has been gushing out unchecked for well over a month. So far, BP has not done much. What kind of company doesn’t have a contingency plan for a disaster like this? Did they really think nothing like this would ever happen? Why didn’t they have plans in place, just in case? So far, the most help has come from Kevin Costner. Good on him, his brother and their company – but why on earth is a movie star better qualified to clean this up than the enormous company who got the world into this position? And if he’s so much better qualified, why didn’t they get him on board before this happened?

See why I have been trying not to think about this? I get into a stressy, rant-y place. But really, even if BP can’t figure out how to stop the tragedy, why aren’t they at least paying people to get out and clean it up? That’s something achievable that, sadly, people have experience with.

oily pelicans

Why isn't BP paying people to clean up the affected areas and wildlife, like these poor pelicans in Louisiana?*

*Photos by Charlie Riedel for The Big Picture.

Share